Breaking News
Ad-Free Version. Upgrade your experience. Save up to 40% More details

Deep Thinkers: First jobs of top American minds

WorldApr 04, 2018 11:34AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Physicist Stephen Hawking sits on stage during an announcement of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative with investor Yuri Milner in New York

By Chris Taylor

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With the recent demise of Stephen Hawking, humanity lost one of its greatest minds, someone able to contemplate the deepest and most perplexing mysteries of life and the universe.

Thankfully, there are many other high-powered minds in public life to tackle the big questions that confront us all. But most did not start out ruminating on those enormous mysteries: In fact they started out small, like the rest of us.

For the latest in Reuters "First Jobs" series, we talked with a few deep American thinkers about their decidedly humble career origins.


Former director, Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL).org; author, “Sometimes Brilliant”

First job: Hospital orderly

Some things in life you never forget. I was an orderly at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, making $1.67 an hour. My first day at work, I got to the ward and the nurse said, ‘Go to Room 237, Bed A.’ So I went, and there was a dead body with a tag on the toe.

I ran out of the room and said, ‘There’s a dead body here!’ The nurse said ‘Yes, I know, this is a hospital. Take it to the morgue.’ So I had to load it onto a gurney, take the elevator to the sub-basement, and roll it past all these underground pipes. For a kid, this was pretty scary stuff.

Then I had to take a second elevator, with lots of graffiti in it – ‘Don’t go any further, death awaits!’ - and by the time I got to the floor, the body had fallen off the gurney and on top of me. Somehow I managed to drag us all out of the elevator, and then I just felt like running away and never coming back.

But I did return. And what a wonderful thing it is, that hospitals exist: Places to cure illnesses, and help people in their pain. In America we don’t do a good job of integrating birth and death into our daily lives. It is usually all out of sight. But the people who work there, like orderlies, ward clerks, nurses – those people are everyday heroes.


Law and ethics professor, University of Chicago; author, "Anger and Forgiveness" and "Aging Thoughtfully"

First job: Actress

I left college to take a job acting in a professional repertory company that was performing Greek dramas. I had acted in summer stock previously, but this was my first long-term job. I was starstruck, and thrilled that I'd be acting with Dame Judith Anderson and the "Cowardly Lion" (from “The Wizard of Oz”), Bert Lahr.

I quickly learned that the world of professional theater was deeply corrupt, and that most actors were narcissistic, no doubt because of the terrible instability they had to endure. Anderson and Lahr were horrible people. My romance about the life of theater was quickly tarnished, and I went back to academic work soon after.

But I did meet one person there whom I admire to this day: Ruby Dee (who played Cassandra in ‘The Oresteia’ and Iris in Aristophanes' ‘The Birds’), a fiercely intelligent and deeply humane woman. Ossie Davis, her husband, showed up to visit her, and they were such an inspiring couple. She died in 2014 at the age of 91. A true star, mind, heart, and body. I'd like to live as well and as fully.


Psychologist, Harvard University; author, “The Better Angels of Our Nature” and "Enlightenment Now"

First job: Sunday School Teacher

Though I’m an explicit atheist, this job is not as incongruous as it sounds. As a college student, I was hired by my family’s reform temple to teach not theology or prayer, but moral dilemmas and the history of Israel. I was 17, barely older than the obstreperous 11-year-olds facing me in the classroom, and thoroughly unprepared to maintain order.

To my shock, I heard words coming out of my mouth that I thought were exclusive to the dorky teachers that had taught me: “Would you mind telling the class what you find so funny, young man?”

I thereby rediscovered a basic finding from social psychology: Our behavior is determined far more by the immediate demands of the situation, and far less by our intrinsic personalities, than we think.

(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own)

Deep Thinkers: First jobs of top American minds

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind: 

  • Enrich the conversation
  • Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed.
  • Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically.
  •  Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and links within a comment will be removed
  • Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user.
  • Don’t Monopolize the Conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also believe strongly in giving everyone a chance to air their thoughts. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email